Sunday, 1 June 2008

Havana, Hotels, Hurricanes.

We stayed at the Hotel Valencia in the old part of Havana. The kids had already been there so we knew it was a good place, well that is apart from three things... breakfast,lunch and dinner! That's pretty much true of all the food in Cuba. Although fresh ingredients are of a high quality, albeit a limited selection, the cooking leaves a great deal to be desired!Its certainly not food as we know it! Still that's not the main reason for being here.

Our room was Massive, at least 40 feet by 25! Two fans, two air con units and a balcony that wrapped around the entire corner room giving marvelous views down to the oldest street in Havana. Cuba may have been a closed country for some years but they are certainly trying hard to catch up on the tourism front. There are a number of very smart international style hotels in the city and any number of the state run types that we stayed at. Older, restored properties, many, like the Valencia with superb inner courtyards full of plants and birds.

One of the reasons for going to the city was to try and get an American Visa. We cannot take the boat into the USA without a 10 year multiple entry visa in our passports. I had read that an Australian boat had done this a year ago and decided I rather fancied having a go! I also understood that it was a whole lot easier than the protracted wait in many countries that issue visa's. Well it worked like a dream! That is when you realise that the USA, having no 'official' embassy in Cuba hide in the so-called grounds of the Swiss Embassy... Give me a break! It's a massive, fortified complex. Surrounded by guards with the title, American Special Interests Unit...

We filled in the forms, submitted to finger printing and a short interview and were told to return in 48 hours when our visa's would be ready to collect... and they were!So a whole new world of cruising destinations opens it's door to us.

There were huge queues of Cuban's trying to get visa's to go. Their experience vastly different to ours. Massive queues, sheaves of paperwork and a high chance of being turned down at the final hurdle, dashing their dreams and emptying their pockets as the $120 fee is non-returnable. The taxi driver told us that only 3000 visas are granted a year, that's 10 a day. The queue on both the days we were there was in vast excess to that number.

And here we are on the 1st June, official start to the 2008 Hurricane season and we have Tropical Storm Arthur raging along the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. High winds and seas making life a misery for the boats, like us, who thought they could extend the cruising season just that little bit more. The NW Cruiser's Net is full of tales of high seas and difficult passages as a few boats are caught out. One, Orchid Lady, seems to be copping the whole lot. He doesn't know what his position is, I guess his instruments have failed, his engine has stopped and yesterday he reported that his sails have shredded. The guy sounds exhausted and despairing as he reports in to the net morning and evening. But without a position it is difficult to help. The US Coast guard and authorities have been informed but he hasn't sent a Mayday yet. Finger's crossed for the poor guy, he is taking one hell of a beating.

You are on your own out here, the ocean is a dangerous place and we play as safe as we can. Although the various weather forecasts tell me a passage to the Cayman Islands, some 170 miles to the south of here, looks ok it's a risk I will not take until this weather system settles down. Fortunately we have all the time in the world...and there are worse places to be than where we are!

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